Despite the bracing weather of recent weeks, the Grayshaw & Yeo team headed to Gosden House School in Bramley, Surrey this February to learn more about the care and maintenance of apple trees. They were ably and generously tutored by Ian Baldwin of Wey Valley Woodman. (

So when and how should you go about pruning apple trees? To begin with, Ian explained that apple trees don’t always need pruning. They are fairly hardy and self-sufficient and the decision to prune is really decided by a few key questions and should be undertaken with caution and consideration.

  • Does the volume of the tree need reducing? It may be that a specimen has grown too big for its allotted space and needs taming.
  • Is the tree a pleasing shape? Often, very old or neglected trees have straggly branches or odd silhouettes.
  • Do you want to increase the yield of fruit from the tree?
  • Can you reach the apples easily? It may seem like an obvious point, but it makes sense to have manageable trees that don’t require huge ladders to get at the fruit.

There’s a range of kit you can use to prune apple trees and each has their job. Look to include the following tools in your kit if you plan to maintain fruit trees or orchards; secateurs, loppers, folding saw, pole-saw, rope and harness, sharpening file, diamond file, sharpening stone.

How should I prune?

  • Use a side-to-side or anti rip cut as this prevents unnecessary damage to the branch.
  • Sterilise tools between sites to prevent the spread of diseases.
  • Aim to remove, diseased, dead and crossing or rubbing branches.
  • Don’t leave stumps, cut back to a suitable side branch.
  • Visualise what you are leaving behind, rather than what you’re cutting off.
  • Consider the direction that buds are growing in.
  • Thin growth preferably on the underside of branches where fruits are thinner.
  • Cut carefully, avoiding wounds and fruit buds, which are big and downy.

What shape do I want the tree to be?

You can lift the crown. This is where you remove the lower branches to create and airy space beneath the tree and a clear trunk. Or, you can clear the crown. This is where you reduce the height of the crown and reduce the number of branches in it, to create a more open structure.

Problems to avoid

Apple trees and fruit trees in general don’t like being near to compost heaps. Avoid compacting the ground around the roots as this damages the tree. Roots can also be damaged by mowers and strimmers, so be careful when cutting nearby. Look to maintain the soil height around the tree and avoid damaging the bark (nails, etc) or constricting the tree trunk in any way (wire, etc).

Be alert for the signs of disease

Apple trees can suffer from a range of diseases and pests, including canker, mildew, scab, and wooly aphid. For more information on these see the RHS link here.

Caring for your crop

Some apple varieties are biennial, so be aware of this when pruning, as this can sometimes help to reverse the problem. See the RHS link here, for more detailed guidance.

Once you’ve got a good crop of apples, wrap them in newspaper and store them in a cool, dry, dark place. You can also contact a number of local co-operatives and turn your apples into cider and other delicious tipples!

Further technical advice

There are all sorts of shapes you can train your fruit tree into, including cordon, espalier, fan and pyramid.

For further advice on these shapes and other more detailed technical information of pruning and training apple and fruit trees visit the RHS page here.